Should the Bible be taught in public school?

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I read recently about a few public schools which had begun religious studies programs as part of their curriculum. Among the classes offered were various titles of classes involving the study of the Bible. Christians who are for the Bible in state run schools should seriously consider if they want religious studies or the Bible specifically, to be part of our public education system.

The only way biblical classes will be available is if studies of other religions and texts are offered as well. It also means, those teaching the classes won’t be required or expected to include their personal beliefs or let them influence their teachings. This wouldn’t be a problem were it possible. Aside from being one of the most complicated and personal subjects in the realm of possible subjects, religion is also the hardest to keep our personal views from impacting our approach to describing them. The best they could hope to do is exactly what was described as the methodology used in including religion and the Bible in public schools. Teaching it as history, and studying it’s social impact.

Christians cheering this sort of inclusion as some sort of victory haven’t looked at what this means in the big picture. The Bible would be studied as a historical book, it’s influence on society, it’s placement in history, it’s poetic value, even it’s genius or folly of authorship and inter connectivity. It would not be taught as The Living Word of God. Entire generations of children would be taught that God, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Bible are simply another part of man’s foolish history. No different than the gods of Ancient Greece. This is exactly what those who oppose religion and refuse Christ want to happen. If they didn’t see this as the end game, they would never have accepted it in the first place.

Jesus Christ wasn’t just some guy who lived and was killed a couple thousand years ago, who had this book written about him which ended up causing wars and a lot of innocent people to be killed. But that’s what the average middle school kid is qoing to get from a public school sponsored religious studies class. Christ would be taught to be no different than Mohamed or Buddha or Brahma, the Bible of no more value than The Hobbit, Animal Farm or the great Gatsby.

Just like I don’t want the Church in charge of my government, I don’t want the government teaching religion. The proper separation of church and state was made clear by Christ, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Though this hasn’t been practiced throughout history, and still isn’t in much of the world, it is how the United States was started and should continue.

Peter had a sword.

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I was recently asked about Jesus Christ’s position as the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) The increase in random violent attacks spawned by religious zealots, angry ignorant fools and mentally disturbed chemical depositories should make everyone consider the position of the church and it’s members in this continual war on peace. While I’m pretty sure he was just wanting to see if I agreed with him, (which I apparently do at least in the big picture) it’s a relevant topic.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Jesus Christ

Jesus was a man of confrontation, a fearless instigator. He provoked, he accused, he made firm statements and exhibited behaviors which went completely against the grain of polite society and religious leadership. Jesus polarized those he met, inspiring love and awe in those who were open to him and anger and fear in those who were not. He wasn’t crucified for being nice to everyone, giving everyone whatever they wanted or being politically correct. His peace was not earthly and his words and actions made that message very clear. That in no way says he was physically violent, the sword he presented came from his mouth, and he presented it boldly. The strength and power of The Word of God is the weapon he brought to battle the misunderstanding and corruption of our minds and souls. It is the sword(Ephesians 6:17) he gave us to battle the ruler of this world(John 14:30) and the evil(Ephesians 6:11) he wields. Christ never committed a single act of violence against a person, though by modern definition, his turning over tables of merchants and money changers would be considered a violent act. We don’t crucify people in America today, but he would be arrested and labeled an unstable danger to society.

”You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” -Jesus Christ 

This is a difficult directive to come to terms with. It almost seems completely contrary to the other statement. Most modern explanations I found are written by men who have little to no personal experience with violence, while writers of older ones often faced tremendous violence. I found more modern ones saying, ‘he just meant insults, as that’s what a slap on the cheek meant in ancient times’. Some seem to find a way to excuse all but the most unprovoked violence, leaving fairly open exceptions for war, self defense and defense of others, which essentially encompasses everything when viewed from the violent mind. They usually go on to clearly interpret Christ’s reference to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But leave the turn the other cheek part no more definitive, or actually, less definitive. Those who denounce any and all violence have often seen a lot of it in one form or another, somehow the ones who haven’t are usually so convoluted in their extrapolations they leave unintelligible responses. It so directly contradicts our nature, it is a hard thing to swallow so we try to leave ourselves an out, just in case.

Jesus was a Jew, though his salvation and message applies to all, he was speaking to Jews. Throughout the sermon this line is taken from, Jesus is referencing Old Testament scriptures. Here he specifically references Leviticus with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. It sounds pretty hard core, but it really is a restraint. When wronged or hurt, our natural response is to make them sorry, to cause greater harm than was caused to us so they’ll regret their actions, and to serve ourselves to vindication. A sort of paying back with interest. Putting restrictions on repercussions brings pause, a moment to consider the ramifications of revenge that always lead to even greater discord. At worst an eye for an eye evens the score. What Jesus did was clarify the intent as he did with all of the Old Testament, he told us to quit keeping score. Nothing can undue an act of violence or unspeak an insult. Returning it in kind only increases the total evil which is done. Israel was commanded no more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; to not seek gain from loss, though they continued to calculate proper revenge. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, to prevent us ever falling down the hole of revenge, so the lesser loss is gain.

”Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,…” -Paul of Tarsus

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives the best explanation of Christ’s instruction on violence. God knows we live in a violent world. We cannot live at peace with all, but we must try. Beyond the scope of insults and momentary personal suffering, which are clearly not opportunities for violence or retaliation, violence to prevent greater evil must be measured to the entire message of The Word and the will of God. We aren’t capable of taking that measurement, and are slow to follow His will. God is the the only righteous deliverer of vengeance, so it can be measured completely, dispensed properly and abandoned by grace when granted. Everyone from armies to individuals are subject to God’s influence and I can’t say he doesn’t use men as weapons for his purpose, I believe he does. I also believe that were we able, as people, to reject evil driven violence completely, there would be no need for righteous violence, and that a fairly small percentage of conflicts have enough of a “good guy” side to be worthy of His interference.

Peter had a sword, in those days anyone who could afford one had a sword. Not just for self defense, it was like the multi-tool of its day. Peter wasn’t a soldier or warrior, he was a fisherman. It was a harsh world though and defense was a real necessity too. When he cut the ear of the soldier to defend the Lord, Jesus stopped him and told him not to fight, because it was his time. He didn’t say never defend yourself or others. He then said ‘he who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword’ but the sword is the living Word of God. He is the word(John 1:1-18) and was about to die because of it. If we believe in him and live by the Word, we die to ourselves and are born again in Christ who overcame death. Living by the sword in the literal, violent sense also brings death, and that is the broad path that leads to destruction.

Jesus is the Christ and the Prince of Peace, he gives peace to those who believe in him and tells us how and why to be at peace with others. He doesn’t say lay down and take a beating, or sit back and watch one, but exercising the means to stop it is the most allowance I can see, and I’m not even sure about that. In the earliest part of the church, it flourished and expanded at a miraculous rate while suffering unspeakable violence and those Christians were widely known for not fighting back. I believe God motivated the powers that overcame the Nazis, but struggle with the murder of millions of native Americans in westward expansion,  millions more in numerous countries with the implementation of communism, the death of billions over time that in my limited perception are completely evil destruction and worthy of his intervention. My faith is in his eternal goodness, peace and perfect wisdom free of the confines of time and limitations. His peace is available to us now and will reign in eternity.

 

Those Greedy Churches

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A lot of the biggest public arguments against religious institutions come back to money. The public sees mega churches and celebrity preachers living the lifestyles of the wealthy and reasonably questions their integrity. “How can they claim to love their fellow man while they’re taking money from poor old ladies?” “Who are they really helping anyway, besides themselves?” “Churches should have to pay taxes like the rest of us!”

I have a huge problem with the way many religious institutions and/or leaders deal with finances. There’s no question misuse, abuse and outright corruption exists within the church. I’ve been told by a few people that they like my posts, but think I’m “very diplomatic” or “easy on the church.” Diplomacy isn’t something I have been commonly known for, so I put a lot of thought into why my thoughts and views on the church and faith would be seen in that light, if only by some. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” This verse from the New Testament seemed as good as any to put a focus on my introspection.

“Money is the root of all evil.” It’s not. It never was. It’s a common misquote which completely removes the sinner from the sin. Money is simply a representation of potential purchase power. A short cut for trade so we don’t have to directly exchange  our particular skills or wares to those who produce the plethora of things we need, but can’t or don’t do for ourselves. Bills and coins themselves are good for next to nothing beyond what we agree upon. Otherwise, coins make good toys for kids to retrieve from the bottom of a pool, or a crappy screwdriver. Bills, I don’t know, kindling or overproduced art? Money isn’t the problem.

I live in the country outside Charleston, South Carolina. It’s nickname is “The Holy City” largely because of the large number of churches in the area that dominate the skyline. Charleston has been a key location in American history and has recently shown it’s holiness in being one of the few places not to be thrown into turmoil by a true hate filled attack, while tensions were boiling over across the country based on what were in my opinion, lesser events. Two men in Florida had physical fight that resulted in one shooting the other, another man in Missouri was shot while running at a police officer in a menacing posture. While in the thick of the upheaval, in Charleston, a prejudiced young man walked into a church and after praying with the small group meeting there, shot and killed everyone he could. Within the same news cycle, a white police officer in North Charleston was on video shooting an unarmed black man as he was running away. Rather than tearing itself apart, Charleston came together. It has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and has T.V. shows based around it’s gentile social elite.

The town between me and Charleston is Mt. Pleasant. Just across the river from Charleston, it’s nicknames are much less flattering. Mt. Plastic and Mt. Please-Me are used very commonly to refer to the once small fishing village turned yuppie Mecca. Porsche’s, Mercedes, Lexus and BMWs outnumber Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Nannies and maid services, yoga pants and breast implants mark the leisure set of non-working, college educated moms. Kids wear bow ties and have monogrammed backpacks. People there introducing themselves include their subdivision or neighborhoods as a way of establishing their status. If you don’t say, they will ask, it really seems important to them. Always an anomaly, when asked I say I live in the country, you can see their wheels start spinning as they try to decide if its a trailer on a postage stamp or a country estate.

Charleston is not made up of only good, fair minded people. It’s well known for political corruption and is a grand display of the haves and have-nots. Mt. Pleasant has a reasonable percentage of regular, working class people. Some of the wealthiest people are also the nicest most down to earth folks you could ever hope to meet. Charleston, a party town with tons of bars, lots of cocaine, an old money guard and plenty of slums, presents itself as and produces the fruit of its nickname. Mt. Pleasant with a solid real estate and service based economy full of quaint shops and restaurants, presents itself as and produces the fruit of it’s nicknames. In either case, views and opinions are biased based on each person’s perspective. Again, the total is greater than the sum of the parts.

Churches and have been in and out of favor by different people in different places throughout history. Seen by some as holy and righteous, by others self-serving and fake. Sometimes for a lack of perception and genuine understanding, other times for good reason and sound judgement. Just like these municipalities, the church is made up of many individuals, some fitting the general outside perceptions, others not at all. My personal beliefs about what the church is and should be, has been countered by my actual experience. I see the church as a family, the bride of Christ, many different personalities joined together by faith and forgiveness, nurturing, accepting and loving. My experience with churches has been that of indulgence, exclusion, judgement and condescension more often than not. For years I was in the “churches are just a bunch of greedy hypocrites” camp because of it. But all the while, I knew good people who went to church, the best, happiest, kindest people I knew went to church.

The same as any person who chooses to can move to Charleston or Mt. Pleasant, any person who chooses to can show up at church. Jesus was clear in stating that not all who claim to be members of the body actually are. There are real and fake Christians. “Not everyone who says to me,’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. On that day many will say to me,’Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Christ was clear that there would be false Christians, not just among congregations but false teachers and prophets. That means seminary professors, preachers, worship leaders, Christian writers, individuals and potentially whole congregations that the entire church gets judged by, aren’t Christians at all.

When it comes to churches and money, one thing is certain, there are more poor struggling congregations and preachers than there are wealthy ones. The ones that are best known and talked about in the secular world are a tiny fraction of what is the church, which most certainly does not mean wealthy churches aren’t Christian. It doesn’t mean well known preachers are false teachers. It doesn’t mean the wealthiest, or most disgraced church leaders aren’t Christians. It does make it likely that some of them are. On the other hand, not all down home, traditional bake sale to replace the hymnals churches and their members are or aren’t Christians either. People tend to form opinions on either the best examples and the worst, generally choosing and using them to reinforce their own preset views. For example; The guy on TV, busted for a sex ring proves the church is all hypocritical, the guy who feeds the homeless once a week handing out bible verses, even though he has next to nothing is clearly nuts. Or, The Lord is using this good Christian’s sin to show us we’re all flawed, or “God has chosen to bless him exceedingly” about the guy who’s employees live in poverty. People can talk themselves into anything. There are rich and poor people in everything, lazy useless degenerates that are rich and poor, hard working, good hearted people that are rich and poor, ruthless schemers who are rich and poor, and Christians who are rich and poor.

“Churches should pay taxes like everyone else!” Churches certainly enjoy the most tax exemptions, but not much more than many other not-for-profit or non-profit organizations, and no more than other religious organizations. The big difference is no property tax, and less oversight. I can’t say I agree with all the tax exemptions different organizations get, but I don’t agree with many of the taxes everyone else has to pay either. The separation of church and state was and is the primary reason for their exclusion and for those who believe churches should pay should consider the implications. Church organizations are not allowed to send lobbyists to influence government regulations, if they were taxed the same, they could and would.

Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing but the word. He told the rich young man to give away all he had. He didn’t say live in poverty or take no payment for doing good service.  To me this shows you must love the lord, not worldly riches, and that loving the lord isn’t a way to financial success. People point fingers about churches wanting ten percent of their income, but the Bible actually calls for ten percent of ALL that you have. That’s not greed, it’s biblical statute watered down. We’re promised peace of mind and eternal life, not earthly trappings or an easy life.

When commenting on the church, I base it on the church as it is at it’s heart, that which it was intended to be, and is for so many. There are plenty of critics who focus only on the bad examples. I’m a Christian, Jesus lit a light in me that isn’t disturbed by the winds of change, not filtered by political correctness and not overpowered or dimmed by the world around me.

“Doesn’t Work and Play Well with Others”

It’s a somewhat common evaluation of ones social abilities, a frequent comment on grade school report cards. It was on mine anyway. “Doesn’t work/play well with others.” When I was 18, starting my fourth full-time job since dropping out of high school, it dawned on me that adults are just bigger, gradually hardened versions of their childhood selves. Not just me, every one of the 50 or so people who worked there had a personality that distinctly reminded me of someone else I had known as a child. I’m 46 now and over all, my evaluation of society hasn’t changed much. Reunions show what we have made of who we are, most of the “who”s haven’t changed much, and neither have I.

Hardening is a delicate process. Done well it develops strength, flexibility and integrity. Done poorly or recklessly and incompleteness, fragility and weakness can result. The metal worked by a blacksmith can be reheated, formed and retreated. It remains of the same substance, but is transformed by quenching. We go through trials of fire and quenching throughout our lives but retain something of ourselves. The part of us that even with doubled weight, thinning hair and sagging skin, can be seen within minutes of reuniting with a childhood friend. Whether we can still smile and laugh with them and forget everything that has burned or cooled us in 30 or 40 years for a moment is a good indicator of the quality of hardening that has taken place.

The conversation that’s had in that sort of reunion can be so telling of the trials by fire we’ve experienced. It can also come out in conversations with newer but close, trusted friends. The highs and lows of life summarized, generally with the greatest hardenings coming out first. Some people have endured a multitude of firings and still burn, others have been quenched to total isolation and others at every stage in between. But at the core, the same basic personality traits we had survived most of the fires. Ourselves, family, business, society and spirituality, past, present and future, are the basics of what we can focus on and we all must deal in each avenue to some degree. Our focus in these conversations and the order they come up expose our greatest level of hardening, the thing that stands strongest in our lives.

 If you’ve ever reunited with someone who has found Christ since your last meeting, you will know. Not only will they tell you, you can tell. That is the greatest hardening. The quenching of repentance and baptism in the Holy Spirit. We suffer trials and celebrate success in career, education, and social status, but if we have truly accepted the good news of Jesus Christ, only God can make us or break us completely. We will share the story of Christ and will have His light shining from within our personality. We become his sword to be used or laid aside, but continually attended by the Lord as we’re shaped and purified.

The tools of the blacksmith have been purified and carefully quenched to withstand the fire of the forge, but due to their less than perfect nature and form, can be used, manipulated and damaged beyond usefulness. It takes the fire of the blacksmith to make them useful again. Put back in proper order to again perform the work they were designed for. If we belong to The Lord, no fire is hot enough to break our temper, short of His own. He will continue to purify and shape us for His will, but the world can only hurt us if we let it.

My substance, though hardened and quenched by any number of things, finally and perfectly by the Holy Spirit, remains. I still experience life as I always have, but with some noticeable differences since accepting Christ and undergoing his baptism, his quenching. I still get angry, it still feels like an explosion deep within me coming out through every fiber of my being when I do. But it takes much more to get me to that point, I’m better able to contain the blaze and it’s different things that make me angry. I still love, it still feels like a warm and calming blanket on my soul with an added twinge of excitement and call to action. But I love more steadily, more broadly and less selfishly. I’m still full of flaws and impurities, but they are slowly being worked out as He sanctifies me. I’m still seen by many as “does not play well with others”, but from what I’ve seen, I have more real and true and enduring friends than those popular people giving me the label. Despite my many flaws, I’m real and everyone knows it.

My best friend, your best friend, Jesus Christ, takes our impure, substandard mettle just as we are and purifies it. He shapes and strengthens us, but it’s the same soul he found us with. Your personality is who you are, and God loves you. If you accept him and love him back, your mettle will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and while the world may wear on you and scar you like an old hammer, it can’t break you.

Sad Times

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Photo: St Andrew’s – Mt. Pleasant Facebook page

Sunday morning, the ministry center for the church community I called home for seven years, who’s congregation prayed with and for me through some of the most difficult times of my life, the building I spent nearly three years, up until about 8 weeks ago, working to help coordinate and maintain, burned beyond repair. The exact cause has yet to be determined but is believed to be something electrical.

It wasn’t a hate crime or terrorists, it’s parishioners won’t be killed or sold into slavery. Insurance will cover the financial loss. Not one person got hurt in the fire or in the fight that extinguished it and saved the historic church building, mere feet away, from any harm. The loss is in the heart. The shock of seeing something you care about devastated by fire, the reaching in for the tattered remnants of things that look salvageable, often to find they’re not, it feels desperate and helpless. It’s saddening.

Despite the damage centered around it, the cross still stands, both literally and figuratively. Jesus promised difficult times and redemption. I’m reminded of the fragility and temporary nature of the material world, and the eternal and unchanging glory of God.

The good works of St. Andrew’s will continue and they will rebuild. I ask you to pray for the congregation and leadership of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church as they navigate the way forward.

Thankful

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A Google images search of nearly any word or phrase will give you a wide variety of visual representations of what the word or phrase describes. Thankful, will not.

The quick-tech flashy world we live in has a million references for almost everything.  A definition, an icon, logo, meme, gif, and different pictures for anything you can imagine can be referenced in an instant. You can type any variety of common words or phrases and get hundreds of different images to represent it. Thankful, a very common word only seems to have one. There are different angles and different people in them, but they are all essentially the same, a person standing alone in a natural setting with their arms raised as to heaven. Quotes and poems overlay some of them, all trying to express thanks or encapsulate what it means to be thankful. But why is this the image that represents it?

From our first steps to graduating from school, a job, promotion, even the number of friends we have, we measure ourselves and others by accomplishment. We’re taught our entire lives that being loved and celebrated requires something of us. We get help along the way, opportunities granted, mistakes forgiven, shortcomings accommodated. But still, we are expected to perform at some level to be accepted.

Few things in this world are just given to us, even fewer that we really don’t think we deserve on some level or have any sort of strings attached. So when it happens, it brings the best of our emotions together, and brings out the best in us. Welling up with emotions words cannot express compells us to voice our praise and reach up, reach out, try to make the giver and the gift tangible, and make them aware of our gratitude. There is a noticeable difference between someone who is grateful for what they’ve been given and those who don’t. Maybe not at first, the gushing and embracing may look the same on the surface, but true gratitude changes us. A gift we know we didn’t earn makes us step up. Not to achieve anything, we already have it. We step up to honor the gift and the giver.

Christ was crucified and defeated death for us. He gives us life and peace. We don’t deserve either, we can’t earn either. The greatest gift, the eternal gift. All we can do is accept or not accept. We can’t pay it back. There is nothing we can do to make it “square”. Being eternally grateful, in awe of God’s grace is our only possible response if we accept the way, the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ. Acceptance of this gift truly transforms us, thankfulness starts replacing pride, greed and power as the thing that drives our positive emotions until we no longer pat ourselves on the back, but reach up to heaven, overflowing with love, joy and trust.